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Is Duterte feeling the heat?

MANILA (SE): “The Catholic Church is full of sh...t,” the president of The Philippines proclaimed in bookending the Congress on Mercy held in Manila from January 16 to 20 with crude attacks on the Church and bishops.

Anticipating that his war on the poor would be attacked during the worldwide congress, Duterte was not disappointed and topped off his crude attack prior to the gathering with an equally crude one at the end.

However, a respectful letter penned to Pope Francis in between the two remains a mysterious contradiction, as in defending his pretence of attacking the drug trade during a speech at Malacañang on January 24, he recommended reading The Altar of Secrets by the late journalist, Aries Rufo, to get the real dirt on the bishops.

“I challenge you now. I challenge the Catholic Church. You are full of sh…t. You smell bad, corruption and all,” The Inquirer quoted him as saying.

He then dug deep and flashed back to 2011 when reports were circulated that a bishop in Mindanao had requested and received a Pajero sport utility vehicle from the former president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The bishop involved was actually Orlando Cardinal Quevedo and it came out in the wash that he never either requested or received such a gift, nor did he own a Pajero.

The chairperson of the sweepstakes office at the time, Margarita Juico, had identified the bishop and four priests as being recipients of the expensive motor cars, but later admitted that there was no evidence to back this up and that the only requests that had been made for vehicles were for health care and social service organisations. No Pajeros were involved.

However, it was a good story and coming at a time when Arroyo was busy currying favour from the Church in her bid to survive an impeachment hearing, it got a good airing.

Juico told the Philippine media at the time that Arroyo was also intent on dividing the bishops on the issue to prevent them from making statements against her or encouraging the public to pressure the congress.

Most politicians have steered clear of offending the Church, but Duterte seems to revel in it and, judging from his opinion polls, so do many Catholics.

However, his popularity ratings differ little from those of either Noynoy Aquino or Joseph Estrada at this stage of their presidencies and they did not run extermination campaigns against the poor, so the statistic does not really mean much.

However, as resistance to the extrajudicial murders is mounting, the super sensitive president, who blushes a bit too readily under criticism, may be feeling the heat.

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